Changing the Stories of Poverty

Kanke Kuptong loves to quote Psalm 34:18: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Kuptong knows a thing or two about a crushed spirit. When she was just a child, the young Nigerian woman contracted polio and had to drop out of school. Where she had once been a boisterous young girl, dancing and running with her friends, she was now weak and unable to move freely. Eventually she was only able to get around by crawling on her knees.

Other people saw her as a cripple, and she began to feel crippled herself. If no one saw potential in her, she wondered, what kind of future could she have?

Through God’s grace, Kuptong’s story doesn’t end there.

World Renew’s local partner, Beautiful Gate Handicapped People Center, began a new project in Kuptong’s community specifically geared toward people with physical disabilities. The project helped people in the community better understand disabilities and how to talk about them. They also encouraged people to see people with disabilities as equal members of society.

In addition to sensitizing the community to disability issues, the project also worked with men and women to help them recognize their own worth and value. Through the project, Kuptong received a wheelchair and vocational training. Over the past year, she has started a successful weaving business in her home.

The type of change that has taken place in Kuptong’s life is something World Renew sees every day in places of poverty across the globe.

“World Renew has been tasked by the Christian Reformed Church to be Jesus’ hands and feet in situations of poverty, disaster, and injustice around the world,” said Ida Kaastra Mutoigo, co-director for World Renew.

“In our 50-year history, we’ve learned that often one of the first things we have to do in this ministry is tackle the stories that exist—and that people believe—about those in poverty.”

Mutoigo explained that while North Americans could go in and provide handouts to people in distress, this assistance would have no long-term impact if donors and recipients continue to believe that these communities were weak and in need of aid on a continual basis and not just for a short-term disaster response. 

“A mindset of dependence fosters more dependence,” she said. “When outsiders don’t believe in a community’s capacity to overcome its poverty, and when that community can’t believe in itself, change is hard. But when people recognize their inherent worth as children of God, realize that they have gifts, assets, and talents that they can use to build a better future, and are given that chance, the possibilities are endless.”

Stories We Tell About Ourselves

Concepción Ich is a 51-year-old woman living in the remote community of San Martín Sayaxché, Guatemala. She has been poor her whole life. With nine children to care for, she and her husband have always struggled financially and were unwilling to take big risks in the hope of a better future.

In Guatemala, the word cuchubal is used to describe a savings group in which every member contributes a certain amount of money for each savings period. Each time the group gets together, one member is given the total of the group’s contributions to invest in new, income-generating activities. Because they take turns receiving the money, each member eventually gets an opportunity to improve his or her life.

When Ich was invited to be a member of a cuchubal in a women’s group supported by World Renew, she initially turned it down. Having lived her whole life trying to just get by, she didn’t believe that she could save money to contribute to the group.

World Renew’s local partner, Christian Integral Development Association from El Petén (APIDEC), encouraged her to reconsider. Ich’s husband helped her raise the 15 quetzals (about $2 US) she needed for her first contribution. At that very first meeting, Ich was surprised to be selected as the first person to receive the money.

“In that moment she realized that she had a way to develop her family’s income,” said Sadoc Aguilar, a World Renew staff member in Guatemala. “She decided to invest in buying two little pigs.”

Ich raised the piglets and will soon sell them for a profit. Today, she tells others in her community that it is possible to improve their conditions by saving their own money.

Stories We Tell About Others

But it isn’t only people in poverty who have to adjust their mindsets.

“Leaders, aid organizations, and those outside of the community also have to recognize the inherent worth and abilities of those in need,” explained Mutoigo.

Te Keo (not his real name) is a young Laotian man with a powerful story of what can happen when people are given a chance to succeed. He had to drop out of school after eighth grade to help take care of his family. With a love of learning, he hoped to one day return to school and become a teacher. But by the time he was able to afford to go back to school, district officials told him he was too old to continue his studies. With only an eighth grade education, he also found it difficult to find other meaningful work.

Keo knew he had potential as a leader and educator but was thwarted from reaching it. Instead, he began to use his gifts to volunteer in his village and hoped that one day things would change. 

In the fall of 2014, World Renew staff members met Keo and were impressed by the skills he demonstrated as a volunteer leader. They hired him to help with their new preschool project in remote mountain communities. He learned how to use a camera to take pictures and videos to help produce education materials. He also learned how to use a computer for desktop publishing and video editing.

Within five months, Keo was applying these skills to produce culturally relevant children’s picture booklets. On his own initiative, he also took video footage of traditional art forms and composed an introductory speech encouraging elders to pass on their unique traditions to the next generation.

When Keo presented the video in the community, many villagers came to see it. Before watching the video, most of the elders assumed that their young people had little interest in learning traditional customs. After watching the video, however, they saw how the younger generation was attracted to what they were seeing. A women’s group gathered young women together and dressed them in traditional costumes. And, for the first time, young and old started practicing dances and songs together.

The morning following the viewing and dance practice, one of the elders told Keo: “I do not want to die yet, because there is still so much to teach to these young people and I want to see that our culture is passed on.”

Another of Keo’s ideas was to encourage a very poor woman from his village to sing a harvest song on video while she was harvesting rice. He hired her to help with his rice harvest and recorded the video while she sang.

When Keo showed the video to other villagers, they were very impressed. No one knew that this woman could sing so well. Keo explained that he wanted to challenge the belief that the poorest people are not capable of special skills or achievements. People had believed in him, he said; now he wanted to help them believe in others.

Reaching Our God-Given Potential

As for Kanke Kuptong, her story has also taken a positive turn. While she had once been “crushed in spirit” by people’s perceptions of her, she is now a vibrant part of her community.

“Kanke Kuptong is keen, responsive, and creative,” said World Renew Nigeria staff member David Tyokighir. “Many in the community appreciate her creative weaving designs, cheerful spirit, and modest charges for quality jobs.”

Kuptong plans to save money from her small business and return to school. She explained that it is never too late to pursue a decent education and move on in life. She knows that, wherever life takes her next, the Lord is close to her and will use her potential for His kingdom glory.

 

Fun Facts about World Renew

  • World Renew has been serving those in need on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church and in the name of Christ for more than 50 years.
  • World Renew, formerly called Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), changed its name in 2012.
  • World Renew works in 1,841 communities to help more than 800,000 people who live in 40 countries.
  • Compelled by God’s deep passion for justice and mercy, World Renew joins communities around the world to renew hope, reconcile lives, and restore creation. This ministry is threefold:
  • Community Development: World Renew staff and volunteers, together with partners and local leaders, are able to address major issues including illiteracy, hunger, malnutrition, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, child mortality, and injustice.
  • Disaster Response and Rehabilitation: When disasters strike, World Renew responds to urgent needs in North America and internationally. World Renew's ability to respond to disaster is enhanced and greatly supported by a number of strategic partnerships and alliances.
  • Peace and Justice: World Renew reaches out to people around the world in an effort to  connect them to ministry, deepen their understanding of global issues, and encourage them to act and advocate on behalf of those in need.
  • World Renew has two co-directors, Ida Kaastra Mutoigo in Canada and Carol Bremer-Bennett in the U.S.
  • You can follow World Renew on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.
  • World Hunger’s 37th Annual World Hunger Campaign materials entitled “Changing the Story” are now available. To learn more, visit worldrenew.net/worldhunger

About the Author

Kristen deRoo VanderBerg was part of the World Renew Communications team from 1999-2016. She now serves as director of Communications & Marketing for the Christian Reformed Church.

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